Monday, 20 October 2014

Some brief thoughts on the Lakes International Comics Art Festival

Steve and I went to the Lakes International Comics Art Festival on Saturday. The festival is now in its second year (I didn't attend the inaugural year). This wasn't a planned trip- Steve decided on a whim to drive up for the day, and asked me if I wanted to join him, and being curious to see what it was like, I was more than happy to do so (apart from a brief wobble when I had to get out of bed at 5:45 in the morning). My intention was to not go in 'journalist' capacity, but to have a wander as a comics fan and to check out this new festival and see what it was about. We were there for 5 hours on the Saturday, between 11-4 and returned the same day.

Foremostly, my whole experience was coloured by people's reaction toward me. Kendal, and the Lake District by large, is a very white, very middle class region. We saw -I think- maybe 6 people of colour in the time we were there (yes, I counted), and the festival, being located in the town center, on a Saturday with bright, dry weather- was busy, as was the surrounding area. I got stared at a LOT, and if you're visibly ethnic minority, you will instantly understand the hostile, open up-and-down hard stares of which I speak although some people prefer a eye-contact off. We went into a fish and chip shop for lunch at one point, and people turned their chairs around to simply gawp/glower. As far as I could tell, it seemed to be the headscarf and being overtly Muslim, because the few poc I did briefly pass didn't seem to be under the same scrutiny, but I could easily be wrong about that. It was deeply unpleasant.

I'm sure there will be people saying I should separate my experiences from the festival itself, and I have tried to be as objective as possible in these rough notes below, but I would also state that it's difficult to divorce the festival as a separate entity from the town, because you're being sold the town as an integral part of the experience, it's pitched as a community event, local people pulling together. If you've never experienced being made feel unwelcome, and scrutinised so blatantly for simply being a different race, religion, whatever, you honestly will not understand how awful, how uncomfortable, and how unwanted it makes you feel. I live in Leeds, which is not without its problems or indeed, white gentrified areas, but between my home-town of Beeston -which has been a hub for immigrant communities for over 30 years- and the the city center, I forget how mixed, how multi-cultural it is, and what that means for me in being able to simply live and walk around relatively peacefully. It's been a while since I've been subjected to that in person, and on that level. The kicker is, you probably won't read another report that has a bad word to say, due to the overwhelmingly attendant demographic, and because people find it so hard to understand how 'a few looks' can have an effect or be racism and bigotry.

All the comics creators, journalists and so forth I chatted to, however briefly, were lovely. I am under no illusions about the make-up of the British comics scene in terms of its creators, but other conventions and events have been shown that its audience IS diverse, and are slowly succeeding in attracting those people. I believe it's vital that we continue that approach and build upon it further, and be firm in not allowing any negative cultures or practices to fester.

Here are some quick thoughts/observations on the convention (less on meeting people or creators and books):

  • Currently, the festival seems to be very much a community event, with lots of local participation. Lots of shops and stores getting into the spirit and supporting the event by having posters up to advertise, doing window displays (which TCAF co-director Chris Butcher was in charge of judging and choosing a winner), etc.
  • The signage was great- dotted all around the town center: large banners, posters on lamp-posts and pillars and walls, and generally very widespread- you could tell something was happening. These were made all the more striking by the specially designed mascots by Louise Evans (aka Felt Mistress) and Jonathan Edwards who adorned much of the flyers.
  • The festival consists of various spaces located within the town center. As far as I could tell there were four main areas: the Clocktower: where the bulk of exhibitors and comics sales were taking place, the Brewery Arts Centre where signings and talks/panels were held, and the Shakespeare Centre and West Moorland Shopping Centre, both of which were hosting kids workshops and activities. General attendance is free, but talks and panels are priced and ticketed. The library and some bars were also involved in exhibitions and further events. This clear sectioning off of spaces worked well. The downstairs at the Clocktower felt a bit tight to navigate.
  • On the one hand, it's nice that these areas are clearly sectioned, and the programmes being handed out quickly help to establish what's occurring where. It also gives you the chance to wander around the town some, which is part  and parcel of the whole experience. It does, however also feel bitty and like you're going back and forth constantly.
  • Continuing from that, it seemed that a large portion of the audience was actually people in Kendal and surrounding areas (I don't know how accurate this is, it's a feeling I got from observing people), bringing comics to more local audiences and those who may not 'follow' the medium in any way, but attending as an event that's taking place in their town that might be interesting to go to,
  • One of the best things was seeing how many kids and parents were participating and having fun- more than I've seen at any festival and almost matching the adult attendees, and I imagines having the separate kids spaces: 'family zones,' really helped facilitate that.
  • There was a fun 'trail' for people to follow- a card which required a stamp from various areas, so each had to be visited and the stamp collected. The obtaining of all would result in a prize.

24-hour comics by (l-r) Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, and Dan Berry

  • The 24-hour comics event seemed to be a resounding success. Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, and Warwick Johnson Cadwell worked from 3pm on the Thursday through to 3pm on the Friday (I think I have that right- might be a bit off) to produce comics which were then printed locally super quick- 50 copies of each- turned into books and were being sold fresh at the festival. People seemed very interested in those and they seemed to be doing well. I didn't go to buy, but I picked up 3, although I was interested in them all, they were a bit pricey at £8 each, I felt, probably due to the quick turnaround on printing. Joe Decie's black and white comic was cheaper at £6, where the others were in colour.
  • I've never been one for panels/signings, but if you're that way inclined, the programming was pretty strong, and the relatively small scale and new-ness of the festival meant access was easier; no long periods of queuing and so forth. When we were at the Brewery Centre both Sean Phillips and Gail Simone only had a person each at their table. Other guests included Junko Mizuno, Boulet, Becky Cloonan, Dave Gibbons, Scott McCloud, and more.
  • Quite a few of the comic creators I talked to all mentioned how well they were being treated and looked after (regardless of perceived name status), and I think it's always nice to hear a festival taking good care of their guests.
  • I attend two UK comic conventions a year religiously: ELCAF and Thought Bubble: both function in very different ways: one provides great art and comics from more independent avenues, while the other is a mix of UK talent and more mainstream overseas creators (mainly American). Together, both provide me with ample opportunity to see my favourite UK artists and get their latest work, introduce me to new people and presses I may not have heard of, whilst also providing the opportunity to meet authors.
  • Looking to see where the Lakes fits in on this scene, and what it offers that the others don't: it doesn't  really do much to provide beyond that- there was nothing new, nothing that would make me add it to my list of shows that I attend each year, particularly as it's so close to Thought Bubble in terms of scheduling: 4 weeks before. As an attendee, if you had to choose where to spend your money, you'd go for the latter.
  • From what I can gather the focus, and the identity of the show, seems to be that it's at the Lakes, and that you come and stay for the weekend and experience the town and district, and it's a bit of a getaway- as I mentioned before, a 'come visit our town' thing. As I stated before, is probably fine if your'e white and middle-class- I'm sure that would be a very pleasant few days. I've been on holiday to the Lake District before, and it's not been this bad- perhaps that was because we stuck to the more 'touristy' areas, and here the small-town insularity and mentality may have come into play.
  • I think Kendal would function well as a starter show- if someone were looking to attend a UK comics festival, this is a good access point, not overwhelming in terms of potential things to do and people to see, and the fact that it is spread out around the town, and not as focused makes it less 'comicsy' and more accessible.
  • On the whole, the Lakes is not a festival I would return to: much of what it offers is available to me 4 weeks later in a much more thorough, friendlier, inclusive way right on my doorstep. I realise that's obviously not the case for everyone. Ultimately, at this point I don't feel it has developed something unique yet, something that it does that other festivals don't. Or it may simply be that the  facet that is supposed to set it apart and make it special - the environment- is not something I'd willingly partake in again. Unless Katushiro Otomo decided to attend.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Dave Gibbons named UK's first Comics Laureate

This is rather interesting news announced at the Lakes Comics Festival today: Dave Gibbons is to become the UK's first Comics Laureate, in conjunction with the launch of new charity, Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw). The role of comics laureate is to be appointed biennially to a distinguished comics writer or artist in recognition of their outstanding achievement in the field, with a view to championing the medium and children’s literacy through school visits, training events for school staff and education conferences. 

Gibbons has worked with DC, Marvel 2000-AD and others over the course of his career, but is best know for his work on the seminal Watchmen. He had this to say on his appointment, a two-year tenure that will begin in February 2015: 'It’s a great honour for me to be nominated as the first Comics Laureate. I intend to do all that I can to promote the acceptance of comics in schools. It’s vitally important not only for the pupils but for the industry too.' 

Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw) is a new UK charity whose primary aim is to improve the literacy levels of children and to promote the variety and quality of comics today, particularly in the education sector. The intention is for the charity to work closely with schools on a number of initiatives, in addition to liasing with museums and galleries on a variety of comics-related projects, and provide reading lists and general guidance to school staff and parents unfamiliar with the comics medium, demonstrating the wider educational benefits it can offer.

The Board of CLAw’s trustees includes renowned graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, Julie Tait, Director of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival; Ian Churchill, comic book artist for DC and Marvel, and writer/artist on his Image Comics title Marineman; Emma Hayley, Managing Director and Publisher of UK’s independent graphic novel company, SelfMadeHero; Paul Register, school librarian and founder of the Stan Lee Excelsior Award; and Dr. Mel Gibson, comics scholar and senior lecturer at Northumbria University.

I think this is a fantastic idea- It would be great to get more kids into comics and all that they can offer at a young age- and an enormously positive move, but as ever, its effectiveness will depend on the extent to which it is carried out within schools in the UK, and its reach, before it can have an impact. I'd be interested to see how schools are chosen, or whether there is a programme to which they can sign up for involvement and so forth.

News, Views, and Oddities #39

News, Views and Oddities, a fortnightly feature where we link to various bits and bobs which have grabbed our attention, encompassing comics, books, illustration, design and film. Clicking fingers at the ready.


I know the blog schedule has been a bit haphazard (this most likely bothers no-one but me) since I started writing for Comics Alliance, but things are starting to settle a bit, so it should all be a more regular now. Starting Friday's with some lovely art as is tradition, here are some new illustrations from R Kikuo Johnson.

I absolutely love this fun, adorable post by the kuš folks announcing Disa Wallander as the artist/author for mini  kuš #29. That's a pretty perfect fit.

This is an interesting post on the Make It Then Tell Everybody site: a number of comic artists, discuss drawing faces, differentiation, and crowd scenes. 

The UK's Cartoon Museum has been awarded a £164,000 grant. To my shame I didn't even know the UK had a cartoon museum until recently, but it has been open since 2006 and  is located in London. They're currently showing a very attractive-looking Gekiga exhibition, which will run until the 29th of November.   

This survey of convention trends is an intriguing read. While it's not surprising that the breakdown in the gender of attendees is now pretty much 50/50,  it also appears women spend more at conventions than men. In similar vein, this short piece is worth a read, if you can divorce yourself from that main image and some of the sweeping assumptions.

If you missed it, I previewed a 6-page excerpt of the second volume of Frederik Peeter's Aama: The Invisible Throng. The book releases next month, and looks beautiful; but you immediately want the next part after reading it, which is frustrating. I'm sure it'll be a richer experience when read complete.


Some of these links I've had saved for a while, so for those of you who missed it, here's the full transcript of Gene Yang's speech, delivered at the National Book Festival Gala, in which he discusses the importance of fearlessness in writing and diversity.


Dustin Harbin shares his sketchbooks with The Nib. The bit about not being happy about work for yourself or to show others until it looks the way you want resonates. 

Richie Pope is one of those artists whose work I always enjoy and look out for. He's got a new book available- a collection of drawings about a never ending neighbourhood. International shipping cheap and available- get on it.

There's been quite a few articles and back and forth on the changing face of comic conventions, in particular where it concerns long-term exhibitors, and cosplayers. It was a conversation started by Denise Dorman and responded to by a few- I like Chris Butcher's take.

Roman Muradov illustrates the Google doodle for Leo Tolstoy's 186th birthday, and details the process in creating it. 

I was disappointed with the latest volume of Amulet- I admire Kibuishi's adeptness at introducing new characters and plot-lines, but it felt too much at this late stage to still be doing that- it takes away from the readers' ability to connect with the characters who have been there from the beginning. Kibuishi's announced the series will be 9 books in length, so 3 more volumes in which to wrap everything up and provide resolutions for the many, many characters. 

Comics you should read:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Take 3 panels: Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald

A simple idea behind the Take 3 Panels feature: introduce a book and its authors, with a brief overview/outline of plot, and then pick out 3 panels from it to deconstruct and chat about.

The comic: Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald by Herge, 1963
The story: In a  nutshell, The Castafiore Emerald sees Captain Haddock's most infuriating nemesis, the famed opera singer Bianca Castafiore, arrive at Marlinspike at her own behest, bringing with her her collection of precious jewels. When the jewels go missing, Thompson and Thompson are called in to investigate the crime. Reading this as an adult, it is by no means the strongest of Herge's Tintin adventures (it is one of the few without a villain), and yet for some strange reason it was my favourite as a kid: I found Bianca Castafiore terrifying and hilarious in equal measure, and the sequence in which Captain Haddock has his nose stung by an insect terrified me. His not insubstantial appendage already red, lumpy and engorged (stop sniggering), looks even worse when Bianca applies crushed rose petals onto it, giving the appearance of some weird, fleshy growth. I was also pretty obsessed with emeralds -no, seriously- because some chart I'd read that allocated you a jewel stone according to the month you were born, had informed me emerald was my gem, so it held extra allure. Mostly, I think it was probably the most out-and-out comedic of the books, Herge's usual slapstick and buffoonery- the Thompson's, the broken stair- now heightened with sheer ridiculousness, and the Captain's desperation building to a crescendo. 


Sometimes it's relatively easy to choose 3 panels, and sometimes it's not. The panels selected aren't necessarily my favourite or the most attractive (these are, by far, the most beautiful in the book), they're the ones that just catch and hold the eye when I'm going through it: I don't actively look for points to talk about, but try to discuss what makes the panel of consequence once it's been selected. This is the very first panel in the book, and it also happens to be a beauty- it chooses itself. It establishes setting and the 3 main characters instantly: they're in the countryside and over the course of the opening passage they walk up to Marlinspike Hall. The idyll of it is serene with words unnecessary; although as they come closer, we'll get to hear their conversation. 

The perspectives and framing are so well done: tree on the left in the foreground and therefore larger, trees on the right inhabiting a middle ground so still big, but not occupying huge space. The branches of the two overlap into an archway of sorts, under which Tintin and the Captain are walking in an almost central position (the slight left-placed position helps to anchor the act of walking; coming forward towards the reader, and into frame), with Snowy bounding further ahead and hidden somewhat by foliage. Herge uses varying shades of green to differentiate perspective and depth cleverly- mounds, hills, and trees- the colouring working to measure distance as well as atmosphere. And if we're never to discount anything that's included in a panel, particularly in any semi-prominent position, I love that the nightingale is front and center here- that should tell you something.


As I mentioned earlier, the humour in The Castafiore Emerald is key; the mystery/adventure secondary for a change, and this is one of the more overt panels which makes that tone apparent. Here the Captain's fears and irritations are manifest in dream form: Bianca and the parrot she gifted  him amalgamated into one being, while he's naked and vulnerable in the front row at the opera, with all the little tuxedo-ed parrots (birds of Bianca's feather) looking seriously on. This is how the Captain sees Bianca: all puffed out plumage, screechy, essentially rather ridiculous. Herge was woefully inadequate when it came to the inclusion and representation of female characters in Tintin, and there is a reading of Bianca here that doesn't help his case: a demanding, diva of a woman who schemes and tricks him into a non-existent engagement, the first of which he learns when reading a newspaper. 

However, essentially Bianca is what we would today term 'fabulous.' The whole idea of Bianca is she's famous and ambitious, although she pretends to be oblivious to it all when she's clearly not; she's not even really interested in the Captain at all, apart from using him a little for her own ends. She's not stupid: she knows he's not interested in her, and she's happy to tune it all out and let people assume what they will, which fits in with Herge's depiction of her: Bianca's supposed to be a cartoon depiction, the comic relief (but only because she never bothers to correct people and allows them to think that of her)- it's something she plays up and turns to her own favour, but she is also a successful, strong-willed, and talented woman (as much as the Captain may not appreciate it).  I like the Capatin's mussy hair here, too.


This is a classic, quintessential Herge panel for me. The motion, the physical humour, well-drawn car, the surprised clouds and startled stars. Captain Haddock's empty wheelchair has rolled loose, barreling down the hallway and scooping up Professor Calculus in its wake, the momentum and weight then propelling it down the stairs and straight into Igor, who is just about to get into his car. This is the result: the force of the clash propelling Igor into the car and out the other end, while all that can be seen of Professor Calculus is his upturned, shadowed feet. the little details make this panel, the still-spinning wheels of the chair, that one yellow star in the bottom left corner, the contents of Igor's briefcase sailing through the air. The stars and clouds are all clustered around the car, more than Igor, the pointed ends of that latter suggesting they denote Professor Calculus' stunned exasperation, while the stars are focused largely on the left for the blunt point of impact. So good: a perfect punchline of a panel.

Comics Shelfie: Michel Fiffe


Comics shelfie time, this week with Michel Fiffe. Fiffe's self-published comic series, Copra, has been a bona fide break-out hit for the artist, one of the most acclaimed titles in recent years. he's been credited with breathing new life into the superhero genre, a talent which hasn't gone unnoticed, with Marvel hiring him to write their All-New Ultimates title. Today, he's here to share his comic collection, and discuss some of the books and artists which have impacted upon him.


'I don't want more comics, but they're endless and I need them and sometimes I can't help it. I'm constantly resisting the urge to amass and hoard the comics from creators I like (as opposed to collecting that which I thought I had to own - that's some old school collector tic that I've long gotten rid of). Why would I resist collecting comics I would enjoy, then? Because clutter bugs me out, especially when it's mountains of unread, unopened objects that feel more like homework than something to get excited about. I've also schlepped enough crates and long boxes between apartments to make me want to throw it all in a shredder and then set the shredder on fire. 

Instead, I've whittled it down to this one modest bookshelf.


It occupies a corner in my studio and accommodates just the right amount of comics that I care to absorb. It's stories I know I'll want to reread, art I'll never get tired of looking at, and shit that cracks me up.


The bottom shelf is occupied by Steve Ditko related books. I have a box of newsprint Ditko comics, too, but this shelf is strictly for collections, folders stuffed with clipped  odds and ends, and my own bound books. That plastic mess at the far right is material ready to be sent to a bindery. Four bags full of ripped up comic book pages, each bag dedicated to a specific artist, Ditko being one of them. Looking at this picture, I should go ahead and toss that goddamn Yoe book. Didn't Fantagraphics release a 4th Ditko book? Perfect replacement. I love it when things work out.


Aside from the comics shelf, I have a handful of long boxes. Those are always in flux, too, since that's another layer of my collector attitude. I like to buy old stacks of comics, read them, then get rid of them. Not even for trade or anything, they just gotta go. I once bought hundreds of Legion of Superhero issues in order to force myself to understand what their appeal was. No, you're right - it's fucking stupid. And who has the time? It's even worse when it's titles that I used to own, purged them once before, and I'm now hurting for seconds. It is a sickness.

Anyway, I have these 2 short boxes out in the open, consisting of issues I like to regularly look at for inspiration. These are mostly categorized by individual artists. Guys like Zaffino, Salmons and Steranko have relatively smaller bodies of work, so they can all fit in easily and still leave room for some Damage Control comics. Shown: one of my favorite Daredevil comics by early Barry Windsor-Smith. Crude but super appealing.


Speaking of favorite Daredevil comics, here's an artist-specific stack: Klaus Janson. From the time he was inking Deathlok to the handful of stories he's written, I've been studying tons of Janson. I keep returning to that one issue of Daredevil, though, that #192. 


My God, that cover. It's all in harmony, the logo, the composition, the quiet desperation, it fully represents this exceptional stand-alone issue written by Alan Brennert. Janson was doing all the art chores at this point and it's all incredible. The title page hits the right notes for me. It somewhat has this Katchor quality to it. I like how the styles flip flop from the naturalism of the second panel to the cartoonish 3rd & 5th panels. It's not jarring, it makes complete sense within Janson's vision. The color's a huge inspiration, too: the gradual fades on the main building and the green color hold in an all yellow background? I drool over those decisions. 


From the book shelf itself are the two Maruo Graphs that I was lucky enough to order from Last Gasp when they had them in stock. I saw Suehiro Maruo's work way back in a Naked City album, but the first narrative work I saw was when the Ultra Gash Inferno collection came out in 2001. Maruo is perhaps the last artist to have profoundly influenced me during my formative years. I would hunt for his work and never find any. I would sometimes print out images from this website that had tons of scans. Then these two handsomely packaged books were dreams come true - collections of comics, prints, sketches, and paintings. I actually thought that the Graphs would be held up by the publisher or something or that it was all a scam and that such books would never exist. I still sent that check. 


The work of George Grosz in Ecce Homo has informed the way I approach ink, color, and composition like nothing else has. All of which I use directly with my work in comics, so I think it more than counts. As someone who never worked with color up until recently with my Zegas material, I was really emboldened by Grosz's aggressive application of tones (and black ink lines for that matter). I'm referring mostly to his watercolor work (although his paintings are just as fiery). The watercolor section in this book is unlike anything I'd seen before. Reaching that level of intensity… well, it's always good to have something to aspire to.

Okay, time to pick out some books to get rid of. I need to make room for some new ones. Or I can just go buy another bookshelf.'

A massive thank you to Michel for his time and participation. You can view all the previous installments of Comics Shelfie here. Next installment will be up in a fortnight (ish).

Monday, 13 October 2014

Beast Wagon, caged animals, and the systems of control


I saw the cover image here in my Twitter feed and was instantly struck by it- the interposing blocks and colours, it's nicely designed.  The cover is for a new comic series by British comic creators Owen Michael Johnson and  John Pearson with letters by Colin Bell, titled Beast Wagon, will be released next year under Released under Johnson’s Changeling Studios imprint. Described as 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with talking animals' beast wagon is set in a safari park, and aims to be ‘an examination of systems and control.' The premise sounds similar to an online comic I remember being talked about a bit a couple of years ago, with animals in a zoo plotting revolution- some of them wanting to break free, some happy with their life. Both Johnson and Pearson will be at Thought Bubble this November with a 6 page preview booklet of the comic which includes a fold-out map (which I'll be looking to pick up). Potentially intriguing, I hope the interior artwork matches up to the quality and pull of this cover image. 

Thought Bubble panels, and spiffy comic storage solutions

On the mind right now- Thought Bubble is crazy close: 4 weeks away. I'm a tad more nervous about it than usual as I was asked to participate/moderate on a couple of panels this year, and I said yes. Right now it doesn't feel like a stupid decision, but only time will tell. Of course, this would be the year they announce they're going to record all the panels for prosperity and so that they can be uploaded onto the site and viewed by those not at the convention. I'll try not to mumble as much. On Saturday I will mostly be at the OK stall bothering Jared and being crap at selling stuff, and wandering around on Sunday in between my panels, both of which are in the afternoon:

  • 2:00pm: moderating the Spotlight on Gotham panel, with Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Scott Snyder, and Babs Tarr. 'This year marks the 75th birthday of the Batman – Gotham’s stalwart savious, the world’s greatest detective, and to celebrate this milestone, as well as the publication of two new titles set in and around the caped crusader’s home-city, we’re shining a spotlight on Gotham, and the creators that currently inhabit it!'
  • 4:00pm: a participant on the Comics and Journalism panel, discussing 'comics journalism, objectivity and subjectivity, negative reviews, interview techniques and how what you write may change based on where it will appear and who may read it,' with Dan Berry, Laura Snapes, and Douglas Wolk. 

I'm not the biggest fan of panels or indeed, public speaking (remind me why I'm doing this!), but I want to push myself beyond my comfort zone. So, come and watch and listen! The whole programme for this year looks superb, especially the inkstuds panel, hosted by Robin McConnell and Brandon Graham which will have Boulet, Emily Carroll, and Becky Cloonan as guests. As usual, though, there's a tonne of great events lined up, some in partnership with the Leeds Film festival, which will even see Alan Moore in attendance at a screening of his film Show Pieces.

That announcement out of the way, I got sent something cool in the post from the kind guys at Comic Cartel. They've created these new boxes specifically designed to store floppy comics/issues, and they're a pretty nifty design: good-looking, well-made and sturdy, fit on your bookshelf, nice slot top closure which helps keep the comics straight/upright. I should point out: the cream box is the actual thing we're talking about here, it comes encased in the black box for protection.



Here's the cream box on my bookshelf. As you can see, it has a ruled section on the spine where you can write what's inside in terms of runs and organisation, etc. It's a good, snug fit.


The boxes cost $7.99 each  and are supposed to fit up to 15 bagged & boarded, single-issue comics (not yet tested this)- the price decreases the more boxes you buy. Some might think that a little on the expensive side, but for someone like me who doesn't have a ton of issues, but enough to require some sort of storage system, it's ideal. I don't like long-boxes: I don't have the space for them and I dislike the idea of shoving so many comics in there together. Most of my issues are currently in random, re-used boxes in with my small press and mini-comics on the top of my wardrobe, which isn't great considering these are supposed to be the comics I value enough to buy in issues (paradoxical reasoning, I know) or have taken the trouble to track down. I probably need a few of these boxes and I'll be nicely set. I like that there are people thinking about this kind of thing, you know, more focus on the quality and aesthetics combined with practical functionality- smart. I hope it takes off for them. Below is a picture of roughly what my main shelves look right now (I have a spare bed in my room, which is filled with teetering piles of books which I picked off the floor so I could vacuum it). Thinking of buying another bookshelf this size and then stopping. It'll be nice to have all my issues on hand, instead of having to lug a stool and be drowned in dust


The black outer box is so nice and sturdy, it seems a shame not to put it to use, so it's now also filled with comics:


They popped a few things in the box, too, to get me started off- thanks guys!


On issues, I started at a point where I was 'nope. never gonna buy issues, expensive, flimsy, less prettier to store,' but I've given in as far as more obscure runs/mini-series are concerned; one reason being the art is so more accessible than in tight trade bindings. Arthur Ranson's and Alan Grant's  2-issue Batman: Tao story, for example is collected in the Batman International trade, which isn't a bad volume to have- there's Frank Quietly's Batman in Scotland story in there too (although that's also included in that big, new Quietly book), but the paper it's printed on is glossy and not very good, which prevents you from appreciating Ranson's art in the same way. Issues are obviously a lot more open in that manner, I guess, in that that is the first and original format for which they're intended, so the comic tends to be geared towards that.  

And, of course, some runs are never collected in any sort of book, I'm currently trying to track down all the Batman: Alien stuff -Wrightson/Marz, Edginton/Johnson/- hardcore into Aliens right now: re-watched all the movies and Prometheus, buying the comic omnibuses (which most probably collects a lot of that material), buying the new mini-series from Dark Horse, which have been surprisingly good so far. Tom Spurgeon tweeted about the Cosmic Odysseys series, and I ended up heading to Ebay and buying the four 'prestige format' editions which was how they were originally released -supposed to be a little bit bigger, I think- rather than the trade. So I'm starting to eschew sturdiness of format for what allows the art and comic experience in general to be better. With regards to 2000AD/rebellion, I've got a few of those big (in breadth, not thickness) ass paperback books they used to put out- bigger than A4-: Bolland and Wagner's Judge Death, Ranson's and Grant's Satan, etc. Again, most of these are collected in Judge Dredd or Judge Anderson volumes (the latter can be found in Shamballa) but it's a crime not to own Satan in that large format- you lose a lot of the epic feel and the magnificence of Ranson's art, that effect it has.


Uncorrected advance proof of Philippa Rice's Soppy, which will be released in January 2015. It's a coloured version, which is great; I don't really understand the practice of sending out advance uncoloured proofs of something that's going to be in colour and being asked to work from that. It's essentially saying that colour doesn't matter- where it makes a HUGE difference to how you read and perceive a comic- I really wish people would stop doing this. Gilbert Hernandez's Bumperhead, which is good, but just so depressing. A life lived in all its banal glory. Hoe important people perceive themselves to be, how self-satisfied they are -even when it's stemming from insecurity- that they end up not sharing anything because nobody is really worthy. I really loved the bit with Lalo and his Ipad- a lovely weird detail. I was wondering how it fitted in, but then I don't think it really is supposed to- it's a neat touch.


I didn't really care for either of these. Well, that's partly true. I liked DeLisle's little book of cartoons, but it's not the sort of thing I'd buy at all if I hadn't been sent it. They're light, fun cartoons, and I ran through them easily enough, but just not very substantial at all; I can't imagine anybody ever re-reading them, and yes, I know- that could be said of many comics. Cat Eyed Boy has a fantastic cover, and some of the stories about this strange cat-boy creature borne of goblins are really good: weird intertwined with the horrific and an element of guilessness, but the volume is spoiled for me, by the whole 100 monsters storyline which starts out promisingly enough and then stretches out too long (and presumably into the second volume) without being as interesting as the accompanying tales. Worth a look, though.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

With pound in hand: October

Here we go: the cream of this month's releases, in graphic novels and collected editions- another bumper month, so once more, I've tried to keep descriptions short to save from having to wade through swathes of text:


PICK OF THE MONTH: Beauty by Hubert and Kerascoet, NBM: Published in 3 separate volumes in its original French, and collected here in one 140-page, full-colour, hardback tome, Beauty is another deceptively fairy-tale veneered narrative on the nature of beauty in the vein of Kerascoët's and Fabien Vehlmann's Beautiful Darkness. Shunned by people as ugly and repulsive, when Coddie unintentionally frees a fairy from a spell that was holding her prisoner, and is offered a wish in return, she seizes the opportunity to reverse her fortunes. But the wish is more powerful and intricate than Coddie realises; her new-found beauty and magnetism force her to leave her village. On the outside, she is saved by a young lord. However, as Coddie begins to learn, beauty is a double-edged sword, as corrupting as it is fascinating, and her destiny, it seems, may lie somewhere else altogether.





















Blacksad Amarillo by Juan Diaz Canales and Junajo Guarnido, Dark Horse: I'm sure I've bored everyone enough with Blacksad this year, but it's a breezy joy to read and always a highlight of the year. Amarillo continues from where A Silent Hell left off, with Blacksad in New Orleans, broke, weary of always seeing the worst of people, and looking to take a break. A chance encounter sees him hired to drive and deliver a Cadillac Eldorado to Tulsa, Oklahoma: a case of the perfect job at the perfect time, but Blacksad being Blacksad, the inevitability of finding himself once more mired is near unavoidable. Guarnido's art makes up for the weak spots in Canales' writing.

The Train by Chihoi and Steve Bradbury, Conundrum Press: The year for comics on trains: 'Already published in Chinese and Italian, The Train is the follow up to Chihoi's successful book of stories The Library. In it Hong Kong artist Chihoi adapts a short story by Taiwanese writer Hung Hung about a surreal train ride. With dream-like logic one of the characters asks, 'Have you ever imagined the world outside the train?' The protagonist waits for someone, a woman perhaps, and observes with trepidation each time a new car is coupled to the train and the occupants spill out.' 




















Station 16 by Hermann and Yves. H, Dark Horse:  I find it difficult to resist snow mysteries: 'May 1997. In Arctic Russia, a border patrol rookie receives a distress call from the long-abandoned Station 16, uninhabited since the days of massive nuclear testing 30 years previously. When he and his squad head out to investigate the call, they find an injured man who claims the rookie was his attacker - but before they can question him further, a massive nuclear explosion rocks the sky.'

Ms Marvel volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, Marvel: I did read the first couple of issues of Marvel's new 'Muslim Pakistani-American superheroine' when it was released amidst much fanfare, but decided it was something I'd rather read it trade; those chapters felt very introductory. Everything I've seen since indicates it really gets better- from Alphona and Wyatt's art to the Wolverine team-up and Lockjaw (although I'm not sure if the trade will catch up to those issues).





















She-Hulk volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberley: On my best of the year list- fun, strong characterisation, entertaining, and great to look at- with Pulido in particular being immensely impressive. I'd never read any Hulk, or She-Hulk comics, but this reads perfectly regardless of how familiar you are with any of the characters. I read in some places objections to Wimberely's art, and while I'm usually a champion of having artistic consistency on books, I loved how refreshing his issues were- and the paradoxically static kinetic nature of his work. Just excellent.

Monster 2 by Naoki Urasawa, Viz: Simply superb. This second perfect edition from Viz collects books 3 and 4 of Urasawa's serial killer thriller/mystery, with Dr Tenman on the run, but now aware of exactly who he's after, but curious still as to the why and how. 'While narrowly evading the police dragnet, Tenma pursues Johan in an attempt to prove his own innocence and prevent another murder, edging closer to the Monster by tracing his secret past. As the only person who knows what Johan is, Tenma searches for Nina, who has been captured by neo-Nazis. His investigation leads him to uncover a horrific fact: the ultra-rightists are conspiring to set Johan up as a second Adolf Hitler.'




















Sam volume 1: After Man by Richard Marazano and Shang Xiao, Cinebook: You may remember me highlighting this series and Cinebook's acquisition of it back in July, and soulful robot action inside, it's written by Richard Marazano of The Chimpanzee Complex fame, so definitely of interest. If you're worried about committing, it's only supposed to be a four volume series, so nice and tight. The story is set around a group of kids and teens who live underground in the sewers, after the majority of the human race has been exterminated by huge, sentient killer robots that still scour the surface looking to eliminate any sign of life. The kids venture to the surface now and gain to make scavenger runs for food and supplies, and it's on one such trip that they come face-to-face with one of the massive humanoid robots.

The Collector by Sergio Toppi, Archaia: This may be delayed yet again- I believe it was touted for release in September originally- but is still worth highlighting in case it does see release, simply because so little of Toppi's work is available in English. Beginning in 1984, The Collector was Toppi's longest-running original series, charting the adventures of a bowler-hatted, daredevil, chameleon of a man. Known only as The Collector, he travels around the world and through time in order to fulfill his hobby of seeking out rare and fascinating artifacts. Illustrated in his distinctive black and white, densely textured style, each page is a master-class in beauty and technique.

Also releasing: East of West volume 3 by Nick Dragotta and Jonathan Hickman, Costume Quest by Zac Gorman, Sunny volume 4 by Taiyo Matusmoto, The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis, Pippi Won't Grow Up by Astrid Lindgren and Ingrin Van Nymar.

Steve Parkhouse and Peter Hogan to deliver more Resident Alien in 2015


I very much enjoy Steve Parkhouse and Peter Hogan's Resident Alien comics. So far there have been two mini-series of the understated 'adventures' of Dr Harry Vanderspeigle, a stranded alien who's led a purposedly quiet existence away from humans until his services are called upon in a murder case, with the runs collected in trades Welcome to Earth, and The Suicide Blonde respectively. Even as the government becomes aware of his existence, Harry increasingly finds himself reveling in his new found vocation and the company of people, despite having always erred on the side of caution for over a decade, after crash-landing and losing his craft and all means of communication.

I'm pretty pleased to hear that Hogan and Parkhouse will be returning to the character next April with a new, 4-issue mini-series, titled The Sam Hain Mystery. 'With a few successes under his belt, Harry tackles another one after the contents of an old briefcase hint that a murderer could be hiding in town in plain sight—using an alias. Sound familiar?' I believe there's currently an ongoing Resident Alien story serialising in the Dark Horse Presents anthology of the same name (or 'chapters' of a story), which will act as bridge between the last tale -The Suicide Blonde- and the new one releasing in April; no doubt it will all be collated for the next trade volume.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Something pretty: Walrus by Brandon Graham: art-books do it like this

Walrus by Brandon Graham, PictureBox: There's a discussion that raises its head in comics every now and again, that if you're not knowledgeable -in a studied or professional sense- or trained about art -perhaps an artists yourself- your ability to discuss it effectively is impaired. And it's something I agree with, to an extent. As much as I try to elucidate the techniques and effects of what I see on the page, how it makes me feel, why I think something works or doesn't, I find myself frequently frustrated and grasping to properly express what's being conveyed- particularly in terms of talking about influences, derivations, and stylistic strains to the fullest.

Paradoxically, I don't think a deep knowledge of art is what's lacking necessarily; to me it seems more like a matter of context, of history, of wider reading and awareness of a range and variety of work: the more you see the more you know. I  also partly think the lexicon of comics is shallow, and although the fluidity of the manner in which the medium is discussed is something I find positive, it does make it difficult to ascribe definitions and thought, and a scale of specific meaning.

I mention this prior to an attempt to discuss Brandon Graham's artbook, Walrus, because a) well, it's an artbook, and b) having read King City and some of Multiple Warheads, I've never really connected with his writing; the art is the thing for me. Discussing art is even harder for the blunt layman when it comes to styles which appear as if they're not doing much (a style I consider Graham's work to be in); art that looks organic, effortless- it's not the most textured or doing crazy things, and yet it is doing something special. The reason I love Graham's art, or drawing style is because it is so  broadly recognisable as an amalgamation of the ligne claire tradition, married with elements dominantly associated with Japanese comics: the clarity, lines, and colour palette European, the sfx, fonts, nuances, and stylisations Japanese. Even in material like King City and Warheads, the sci-fi leans European in landscape and design, where the humour and lightness/quirk and energy is more manga-like in tone.  His people are a mix of both- the sketchier illustrations of women here evoke Manara but he can switch from that sensuality to the squeaky-bubble 'fun' sexy cartoon characters just as easily. there is such a quality of clean-ness , of clarity to Graham's art, the lines fine yet assured, never appearing tight or overly controlled or precise; there's still a sense of fluidity, but not really a looseness.

My friend Andy is just beginning his PhD in nostalgia and design, and he was explaining to me some of the things he'll be researching. One of the theories that stuck with me was the concept of notalgia and colour memory association; this idea that people retain a linked memory of certain colours and palettes from childhood memories- toys, books, cloth patterns, posters, furniture, interior design, etc. and that initial psychological bonding almost, with the colour affecting how you see colour-ways from then on- whether you gravitate towards particular shades and dislike others- consciously or not. You form a relationship. One of the major, informative texts -hell, influences- of my childhood was Tintin. It was my very first comic, and after reading them all, I would then borrow them in cycles from the library, depending on which one I wanted to read. Herge is pretty much seen as the definitve ligne claire master, but there's some aspect in my brain that links his colours with Graham's. Which is kind od odd, considering the majority of Graham's work hasn't been in colour. However, a lot of Walrus is, and a lot of the artwork and pieces he'll post on his Tumblr share the same bubblegum pink/blue/green colours, and it's all a little too much when my brain sees that style coupled with those happy shades of my childhood- it goes to the good place. Aesthetically, it's very pleasing. It's the equivalent of good writing being immensely quotable; you could pull any image or section of an image and more times than not it's striking in its own right.

To talk less arbitrarily about Walrus, it fulfills its function as an artbook from a cartoonist perfectly. Things I want from an artbook: process, sketches, notes, doodles, along with some more polished pieces,and if it's from a cartoonist then you want some comics in there right? That may sound clunkily obvious, and as much as I appreciate tomes of dry, single-page images with little text, or one-line explanations, that's really the sort of thing I associate with photography and painting, big projects or career retrospectives... it's essentially a different remit. Walrus has all those and is a nice size to boot, good paper stock, with a thick matte cardboard french-flapped cover. The book collates work from 2009-2011, and it's filled with pin-ups of various comic characters, Fantastic \Four, Conan, Tintin, Akira, and a lot more, sexy ladies, comics, collages, diagrams- that's another of those things I like- labelling and notations. When you would draw something and had to list next to it what each but of it was, and how it worked- there's lots of that kind of writing here, which is very enjoyable. It's interesting to see beyond what we normally associate certain artists with- the expansion of their capabilities. The loose, pencilled draftsmanship of some of the more traditionally rendered illustration is quite beautiful: bridges and buildings over water. I like that you can go from there to comics, to collages, to cat pictures, and Once Upon A Time In The West parodies.

At one point, I started writing an article about the auto-bio comics Graham does (his humour in these is much more in alignment with mine, than the pun stuff and wordplay), and how good they are- I think there were a few earlier in the year while he was travelling, especially, which made me take notice, and there's more here, often in collaboration with his partner, the artist Marian Churchland. They'll do little one-twos in response to one another, or simply draw each other while gently poking fun, and the affection is palpable- I know it's not fashionable to have sentiment in art, but it's lovely to see- mainly because it works! Their styles complement each other very well, and you get a sense of each, too.  There's even a little pencil Predator strip by James Stokoe, which provides a shot of zany energy. I'm a big believer -and I know some people think it romantic- that passion and sincerity is imbued on a page it elevates good art to another level, where you can have the most skilled, proficient artist working on something he doesn't believe in, and I'm not talking an intrinsic belief, but an access point, and the art will lack something unintelligible... you can just tell when someone's having fun, their level of involvement, and the love for what they're doing- and that's what makes Graham's art special for me right now- he's probably one of the most self-invested cartoonists out there.

I'm not sure how I feel about the amount of naked ladies in sexual positions here. It's understandable considering Graham's background in porn comics and the general magnificence of naked ladies, and while it avoids being exploitative, it does get a bit boring, as with seeing anything over and over. If it were dinosaurs maybe I would feel differently. Possibly I have revealed too much of myself... Another of the things I appreciate is the composition and layout of Graham's pages; he uses so much of a page, filling it with details and things to look at in every nook and cranny, there's such a pleasure to be found in discovering and absorbing each aspect as you make your way over it all; he pours so much into it, yet it's never cramped or over accessorized or that he's trying to fill spaces. I like the softer, rounded panels, the inset boxes, and interposing elements layered with fonts and blocks of sfx. It's a really great book, and genuinely one you can return to, knowing there's yet more to see. More cartoonist's artbooks like this, please.


Interior cover: the pink section with the girl marks the french flap